It's a great thing when you find a profession you love, when the career chooses you as much as you choose it.
So Elliot Carhart, MHS, RRT, EMT-P, EMT-T, can't help but feel lucky to have had two separate, but related, careers choose him. First, when EMS came calling. And again, years later, when he embarked on a "Plan B" and became an educator teaching future generations of EMS professionals.
His career began in EMS humbly enough. "I started out at a volunteer [fire department] in rural west Tennessee, where I routinely found myself on medical calls having no idea what to do," Carhart says. "I hadn't been trained above the first responder level and it was not unusual to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. It was during this time that I discovered my passion for EMS and made the decision to pursue a career in this profession."
He moved to Florida and enrolled in an EMT program. He worked on a BLS ambulance for another year while preparing for paramedic school and upon completion he worked on an ALS unit for a public utility model ambulance service. A couple years later he attended the fire academy and was hired by a local fire department.
It was during this time that he was working on his bachelor's degree in public safety administration, which he completed a few months into his probationary year. "At the time I had no idea I would still be in school six years later," Carhart says.
He has since become a Registered Respiratory Therapist, earned his master's degree in health science, and is nearing completion of his EdD from Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale-Davie, FL, with a concentration in Health Care Education. Earlier this year he said goodbye to his job with the Pinellas Park (FL) Fire Department and assumed a new role as Assistant Professor in the Emergency Services program at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, VA.
However, while his new career is teaching, that wasn't his original Plan B.
"Respiratory therapy was actually intended to be my Plan B, but I found greater reward in my teaching endeavors," Carhart explains. "My own continuous pursuit of knowledge, which was more about self-actualization then planning an alternative career, eventually led me to where I am now."
And, Carhart says, his decision to switch careers was a conscious, deliberate one.
"I think everyone working in a high-risk profession has a personal responsibility to formulate a Plan B," he says. "We’ve seen some recent data on injuries among EMS workers and I hope that will make people stop and think, 'How many peers do I have who have survived an entire career as a street medic?' That's not to say I don't want to see people striving for lengthy EMS careers, because I truly do."
But, says Carhart, the longer he spent as a field level provider, the more he saw a need for change. Ultimately, he saw higher education as a means to conduct the research necessary to inform the EMS profession regarding the directions he believes it needs to take. "When I came across my new position at Jefferson College of Health Sciences, I knew it was the right time to make the switch," Carhart says. "I was extremely impressed with the strides they were making toward advancing EMS education with their new bachelor's degree program in Emergency Services and I was excited about the opportunity to get involved."
And education really has been a natural fit for Carhart. When he was just starting his career as a medic he had an ambulance partner, who was still going through paramedic school, who told him that he liked the way Carhart explained things. "He wondered if I'd be interested in becoming a preceptor so that he could also ride with me as a student," Carhart says. From there things have only snowballed.
After such a long career in EMS, Carhart is still adjusting to his new life in education. "I stopped to visit my brother during my recent move to Roanoke," he says. "While there, my 4-year-old nephew asked me, 'How come you're not a fireman anymore?' I tried to explain the situation to him but he simply responded, 'Sad.' I had to agree with him. But it's not all sad. Change might be uncomfortable, but it's necessary.